The movie has all the clichés at its disposal but can’t make much of it. With its leads being the only thing going for it, it’s hard to recommend it.
Editor’s note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Aria from Pretty Little Liars and Barry Allen from The Flash meet and fall in love in Freevee’s romantic-comedy Puppy Love. The general conceit of Puppy Love is fine. Many people love dogs and are primed for a rom-com about dogs playing matchmakers. It’s happened before, so the formula is easy to deploy. However, for what is essentially a slam-dunk premise, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Puppy Love is a romantic comedy lacking in the romance and comedy department. More is done to craft a somewhat fun tale of a man with unhealthy coping mechanisms coming out of his shell and experiencing life again because of the unconditional love shown by his dog. The companionship is endearing, but it is not what we came here for.
Max Stevenson (Grant Gustin) is a germaphobe, anti-social, and riddled with neuroses that he works through with his therapist. She suggests he get a dog to help with his social anxiety with people. Enter Chloe, a darling rescue that shares a resemblance to Lady from Lady and the Tramp. She lightens Max’s life with her sweet presence, but Max isn’t the only man in her life. Nicole (Lucy Hale) is a hot mess with a chip on her shoulder that has closed herself off to romance and other deep connections. A stray, which she names Channing Tatum, leaps into her life and is what she needs to push her out of her funk. Although Channing may have found a mother in Nicole, he also finds a connection with Chloe, which brings Nicole and Max’s worlds together.
Gustin has been locked in on CW’s The Flash for what seems like ages, so it’s nice to see him break out of that to play someone slightly different. He is, by far, the shining light in the movie, as his performance is easy to engage with. Hale is playing yet another version of a well-known archetype she built for herself. The two actors work well together and have a good rapport, but there is a severe lack of romantic chemistry generated through their performances. For the most part, Gustin carries the bulk of the responsibility with his ability to slip into the typical rom-com leading man role, but the pair doesn’t mesh well.
The writing could be better. The movie moves through the motions to stir up emotions with Nicole and Max, unearthing their trauma as they spend more time together. But while there are occasionally pieces that might elicit a strong response, the film sheepishly skirts around any heavy stuff with a lighthearted affectation that is not supported by anything else. The film’s comedy could be more inspired and practical, too. There is a kernel of a comedic presence, but the presentation squashes it. The romance is practically nonexistent as Hale and Gustin aren’t given enough material to build a passionate, believable romance.
The film is firmly in the “for adults” category with all the profanity that is dropped, but it can’t be bothered to get over how chaste this romance is. Look, no one expects Hale and Gustin to turn Puppy Love into some 50 Shades of Grey nonsense, but there is no physical chemistry or heat between them. A slow-burn romance is excellent when there is the anticipation of something explosive; Puppy Love doesn’t even attempt to sniff in that direction.
Overall, Puppy Love is very dull. The movie has all the clichés at its disposal but can’t make much of it. The writing is witless and dry, and the directing — by Nick Fabiano and Richard Alan Reid — equally so. With the very minimal effort from the leads being the only thing this film has going for it, it is hard to recommend Puppy Love to anyone. Yet, there is the fact that it is easy to watch on Prime Video’s free service, and the two have respectable-sized fanbases that will follow them anywhere. Regardless, Puppy Love is a weak entry to the rom-com canon, and is hardly worth acknowledging after the credits roll.